BOISE, Idaho (CBS Seattle) - Though surrounded by water, the residents of Easter Island turned to an earthier diet — namely rats. Scientists analyzed teeth from 41 skeletons to determine what they ate before they died and were surprised to find the islanders lacked seafood in their diet.
Amy Commendador, of the Idaho Museum of Natural History at Idaho State University, told LiveScience the colder waters and steep cliffs may have hindered efforts at fishing.
“Traditionally, from Polynesian cultures you have a heavy predominance of using marine products, especially in the early phase of colonization,” she said
The researchers note that the Polynesian rat is widespread across the Pacific Ocean, often traveling with humans on ocean voyages and breeding rapidly after reaching a new island. They suggest rats may have been imported to use as food.
Previous research has suggested the rats were at least partly responsible for the deforestation of Rapa Nui, says LiveScience.
The fate of the people of Easter Island has long been a mystery to archaeologists. Also known as Rapa Nui, the island is most famous for the massive Maoi statues carved by its former inhabitants.
The article will appear in the Journal of Archaeological Science.